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Thursday 22 June, 2017
A couple of days ago was my 47th birthday. Like other recent events (Australia Day, New Year’s Day, Christmas Day) my birthday was spent without my partner. Instead my daughter and my mother-in-law provided presents, cards, a hastily iced cake, and a trip to the pub. In the coming weeks and months there are further iconic Australian rituals (St. Valentine’s Day, Anzac Day) which I will be party to, but for which half of my life will be absent.
Christmas was probably the hardest day to cope with, partly because it was the first occasion that had to be faced with our key goal scorer missing, but also because of the importance that children attach to the yuletide celebrations. My focus was obviously on the children. (I say children, but they are in fact aged 15 and 18; however I notice that at Christmas my kids, irrespective of their age, tend to revert to their pre-teen excitement.) Anyway, my mission for the day was to ensure the children had “a good Christmas”, whatever that means. And I think the mission was mostly successful, with the help of some dear family friends. As for me, my feelings were pretty much ignored.
New Year was much better: both kids had separate parties to attend, and with associated sleepovers, no taxi driving was required on my part. This meant that New Year’s Eve was spent at home on my own. I had the freedom to watch whatever I wanted on the television, and go to bed whenever suited me. An occurrence that had to be savoured and used wisely. The result: 1980’s sci-fi and in bed before 11. A rare treat.
Australia Day completely passed me by. The nature of my work meant that the day was spent partly in the office and mostly on my laptop. With kids occupied by respective boyfriends and girlfriends, catching up on paperwork was beneficial. Enjoyable? No. Useful? Yes. Well that’s what I tell myself, because being positive is what will get me through the next four lonely months.
I’m blessed to have two wonderful children (one of whom has now left us to attend his new entry officer’s course at HMAS Creswell), and a mother-in-law who is more than keen to help, even when help is not always wanted. So I feel a degree of guilt when I say that I’m lonely. But the fact is, I am. All those years ago I married for a reason: I wanted, and still want, to share my life with my best friend. A six month deployment to the Middle East makes that difficult.
I’ve learnt, in a surprisingly small number of weeks, how to overcome that difficulty. Focussing on the positives helps, as does ignoring the negatives. When the dark thoughts start to rise in my mind, I know it’s time to switch my attention to something that will consume me fully. Celebrating wins, however small, is important. The phone call from Iraq on my birthday was the best present I had for years. Why? Because it was the one thing that I actually wanted and also really needed. At my age it’s unusual to get a birthday present that makes you tearful. Socks and a new iPhone cable don’t have that effect.
Dropping balls is perhaps the most important lesson that I’ve learnt. I started out thinking that I had to do everything in the home, and at work, to the same standard as before, even though we were a person down. I’ve now happily accepted that I can’t juggle all those balls, and better still, I’m not expected to. There’ll be stuff that won’t get done now until later in the year (clean out the toolshed, paint the kitchen), but it doesn’t matter. The world will keep turning, even though most of the house desperately needs a lick of paint.
All of this requires a change of attitude of my part, and that took me by surprise. I honestly thought that this would be easy, even fun. The house to myself for six months? Fantastic. But actually being the one left at home, just like the person deployed, requires planning and training. Problem is, they’re trained for this, and we’re not. On the bright side though, I’m not facing loaded weapons every day. I’m not living in a shipping container, and I’m not required to wear body armour every day.
So I’m not going to complain. I am immeasurably proud of my dear wife, and all the other Australians who have volunteered to not only serve their country, but to also help complete strangers rebuild their own country. So no, I’m not going to complain, but I’m also not going to pretend. Being the one left behind is not easy, and that’s OK.
CAPT Sharon Mascall-Dare recently returned from deployment to the Middle East Area of Operations, serving with the Australian Army in Task Group Taji 4 as a Public Affairs Officer.
Read her Think Piece, In Turkey they call it Abide